Sunday, June 24, 2018

Comeback or Coming Forward?

The events of January as seen from the perspective of my psychiatrist:

Week 1: "I have no idea what I'm going to do after I graduate or how I'll be allowed to stay in Europe!" (wringing hands)

Week 2: " I had a phone interview yesterday and am going to Helsinki on Monday for a face-to-face interview!" (nervously bouncing in chair)

Week 3: "I got the job! I started working yesterday and am moving to Helsinki in June!" (eyes wide in shock)

It was a whirlwind few weeks to say the least and my psychiatrist could hardly keep up with these fast-paced changes let alone me!

Through a series of fortunate events, my Master's thesis super-advisor also happened to be involved in a start-up company - GlucoModicum. The company's vision is to develop a non-invasive glucose sensor to be used by diabetics. In my Master's thesis, I had already been working on a sensor to detect specific DNA strands so it wasn't a big jump to start working with glucose. In fact, the more I prepared for the job interview, the more I realised that this is what I had spent all these years studying for. If there ever was an opportunity to seize, it was this one!

As the interview turned from my experience as a chemist and towards when I could move to Helsinki, my head started spinning with the reality of the changes that were to come.

I had made a plan, you see. My plan was that I would take 5 months off running, in January I would find my previous joy and motivation for training and by April I would be in top shape and ready for a strong comeback at the competitions. During this time, I would also finish the experimental section of my Master's thesis and then leisurely write it in time to graduate in June.

Well, getting a job in January certainly put a twist onto those plans!

It was extremely difficult to transition from being a student to being an employee. As a student, what I did in the lab was for me and my education and it was enough. As an employee, I felt like I could never do enough, that I didn't know enough and the pressure I put on myself was immense. Thankfully, after enough positive self-talk, that has levelled out over time to a point where I can say "I don't know but I will try to find out" and I can finish off a workday with the thought "I did my best today and it was enough".

I love using what I have learned to contribute and be part of a project that is much, much bigger than me!
Photo: Jaana Honkanen

The whole comeback part has been a bit more complicated. I tried so hard to "come back"; to find what it was that I had before - the enthusiasm for training and the determination to excel in sport. I tried so hard to come back but eventually I had to, instead, try to let go. I had to come to terms with the fact that this just wasn't the right time; that by trying to come back, I would actually be going backwards. And that was the last thing that I wanted.

When I took a complete time-out in the fall, I had understood that I was in a very fragile position. I was in a lot of pain physically and emotionally but inside I had found this flickering but bright flame. And that flame grew brighter when I was outside, just walking through the forest and breathing in the fresh air. However, I knew that it was the type of flame that if I blew too hard it would flicker out.

I knew that if I were to continue moving forward, I would have to do something differently.

It started with focusing on my studies, it developed into starting this job as a chemist and it's turned into accepting that, right now, I just enjoy being active as a way to move my body and feel alive. I tried to follow a training program and I tried to imagine myself competing at WOC but it just wasn't right. It felt constricting and it felt scary and it felt too soon.

While I won't be competing at any international events this year, it has been important for me to try out competitions on a smaller scale and run for my ever-supportive club, Angelniemen Ankkuri. It's been frustrating to face the fact that I only have two speeds, walking and running, but running for my teammates inspires me to do my best no matter my physical shape at the moment.

Sometimes though, I still get really, really sad. Striving to be a world-class athlete has been such a steadfast part of my life for so many years now. Life changing decisions were made because I wanted to explore and improve in new ways. After putting so much into a sport, it's hard to take a step away from it all; not necessarily because I want to, but because I feel that it is a choice that I have to make in order to heal and to grow.

A 16-year old Emily competing at JWOC for the first time and
dreaming to, one day, be at the top of that international stage.

It is the art of letting go, of looking for a way forward rather than trying to claw my way back, of being honest with myself and open to whatever may be in store for me next. Usually, if I let go of my expectations, things turn out even better than I could have planned them myself.

Sometimes the grief has been overwhelming - while running, looking at a results list, watching an international competition, scrolling through social media - I am reminded of all that I do not have anymore. But I have to remind myself of all that I am other than an elite athlete: a Master's student, an employee, a healthy human being, an attentive friend, a supportive teammate, a loving sister and daughter...

It sure has been a tricky route to navigate so far but today was different than yesterday and who knows how it will be tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment